My neighbour, whose door is a hop and a skip from mine, sent me a message inquiring if all was well. It was a sweet gesture as it has been months since we have caught each other by the door and exchanged the customary ‘hi, how are you’ before getting on our way out or into our respective homes.
Our virtual exchange was longer as it was centred around the pandemic and we ended our conversation with ‘take care and stay safe.’
We have been under the viral grip for months. Initially, the abrupt and forced change in lifestyle was overwhelming but gravitating from the hamster-on-wheel existence to lockdown gave birth to the refreshing idea of togetherness. Together tastes great with food; add board games, WiFi and Netflix — together was at its entertaining best!
In the pre-COVID world my daughter would have responded enthusiastically and in an instant they would have become ‘best’ friends for the duration of their play. It would take all of my patience and strength to get her back home and the following days will be coloured with stories of her nameless friend
Today, the WiFi has been upgraded but board games are gathering dust, YouTube dare not show me one more cooking suggestion.
My daughter, Little Princess, relies on Google Assistant more than her Mommy even though I am convinced that she is well-versed with the features of Teams and Zoom than the subjects that are taught using them. I worry that she is regressing back to caveman writing using emojis — not words, to communicate with friends on chat.
One evening, after a day spent with her newfound hobby of sharing screens, muting mikes, emoji chatting and seeking Google Assistant to answer questions, I took her out cycling and to give her a glimpse of the real world.
As she cycled along the tree-lined road that is usually secluded, a little brother and sister were seen cycling towards us. One look at them and I was looking into another era where parents let their children cycle about the otherwise safe neighbourhood without the apprehensions of a prowling virus and happy faces without masks.
The brother cycled past us but his little sister stopped and smilingly mumbled a ‘Hi’ expecting a response from Little Princess.
In the pre-COVID world my daughter would have responded enthusiastically and in an instant they would have become ‘best’ friends for the duration of their play. It would take all of my patience and strength to get her back home and the following days will be coloured with stories of her nameless friend.
Today, her enthusiasm to play with anyone other than her brother or her virtual friends is carefully hidden just as her face behind the mask. I know my relentless advice on being safe have a taken permanent space in her head.
I wondered if my need to keep her safe would eventually turn her into a recluse. As my mind debated over right and wrong, I stopped to ask the little girl about her parents and her mask.
She pointed someplace before a scuttling kitten caught her attention. It tugged at my heart to see Little Princess’s eyes drifting in the direction of the carefree girl who was seen rolling on the grass with the kitten, sneezing noisily before taking off with her brother to find another friend or a kitten for the evening.
After the forced glitch to normality had stretched too far, when togetherness lost enthusiasm and our outdoor wear that have been donned in crowded malls and happy gatherings begged to be used, practicality collided with urgency and some of us broke the rules of distancing, did away with caution and masks and dared to challenge the invisible enemy.
As we take baby steps to normality, rushing into gatherings and sharing food, joy and conversation is fun, but once you lose the dare to the viral grip, its days of solitary confinement and suffering, that I hear, none — not even your family or the friends at the gathering will be able to help you through.
So, keep the mask and the distance.
Take care and stay safe!
— Pranitha Menon is a freelance writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @MenonPranitha